A Jasper Weekend

By Ted Hindmarch

On Fri, 9 Aug, I met up with Richard Klauke in Jasper for some mountain birding and my first birding trip to this area. The weather and most of the birds proved very cooperative. Fri AM we took the Tram to the top of the Whistler's. On the east facing leeward slopes we came upon at least three foraging family groups of GRAY-CROWNED ROSY FINCHES. Each family group consisting of 1 female and 4-6 juveniles. They fed along the slope within only a few feet of us at times, allowing for excellent views. A couple of juvenile HORNED LARKS were also in the same area. A little further to the south-east we came upon a female WHITE-TAILED PTARMIGAN with three young and enjoyed several minutes watching them forage. The young even started to follow us as we left the area. Not too far away we came upon a batchelor group of at least 12 males (with 1 spinster female) all in their eclipse plumage.

An afternoon walk up to Mount Edith Cavell meadows yielded CLARK'S NUTCRACKERS, WILSON WARBLER, TOWNSEND WARBLER, ROCKY MOUNTAIN DARK-EYED JUNCOS, YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (family group), BOREAL CHICKADEES, PINE SISKINS, WINTER WREN (carrying food), RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS, and COMMON RAVEN. The meadows themselves were fairly quiet in the afternoon with only an AMERICAN PIPIT seen closeup.

A check of the Cottonwood sloughs area in the early evening found a family group of RING-NECKED DUCKS, MALLARDS, and good looks at a LINCOLN SPARROW showing concern over our presence. A RED-NECKED GREBE was on Patricia Lake. We had to wait for a family of RUFFED GROUSE (1f, 7Ju) to cross the road at Pyramid Lake. At 9PM we drove to Malign Canyon were we watched at least 8 BLACK SWIFTS hunting insects over the Athabasca River, lower Malign canyon area. As we watched a PILEATED WOODPECKER called from the woods behind us. A drive up to Malign Lake found a moose and a black bear, and some GRAY JAYS.

Saturday AM, we drove the Celestine Fire Road on the hunt for grouse. Near the far end of the road we found a male SPRUCE GROUSE and on the way back ran into a mixed flock of WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS, VESPER SPARROWS, CHIPPING SPARROWS, RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH, and JUNCOS. Near the escarpment corner an OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER and WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE was perched on a dead snag. In the wetlands near Snaring River were a male HOODED MERGANSER in eclipse plummage, a family of BARROWS GOLDENEYE and RING-NECKED DUCKS and 2 GREAT-BLUE HERON.

A stop at the Waste Transfer Station found a dozen or more CALIFORNIA GULLS (mature and juvenile) 2 First summer RING-BILLED GULLS, as well as EUROPEAN STARLINGS, a WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW, BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE, COMMON RAVENS, A BALD EAGLE and a KILLDEER. AMERICAN CROWS were along no 16 Hwy on the way into town. In the afternoon we hiked loop 6 between Patricia Lake and Cottonwood sloughs. This hike was highlighted by a male THREE-TOED WOODPECKER and a fair sized mixed moving flock consisting of WESTERN TANAGERS, SWAINSON THRUSH, AMERICAN ROBINS, PURPLE FINCHES, RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH, CHICKADEES (BOREAL,BLACK-CAPPED AND MOUNTAIN), and JUNCOs. Also noted where CEDAR WAXWINGS and YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS feeding fledglings, COMMON YELLOWTHROAT juvenile, RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS, a parent/juvenile pair of probable WILLOW FLYCATCHERS (not vocalizing), and a WARBLING VIREO. On the water at Cottonwood were HOODED MERGANSER (1m, 2ju), RING-NECKED DUCK(1m/1f), a single COMMON GOLDENEYE (not BARROWS) female, plus a family of BLUE-WINGED TEAL and several MALLARDS.

Sat evening we again tried the Celestine Fire Road searching for BLUE GROUSE without success, but did get another SPRUCE GROUSE. Also a COMMON SNIPE resting on the road. The highlight of this trip was witnessing a heart-stopping near miss of a train and a large Black Bear on the grade over the northwest corner of Jasper Lake. After running ahead of the train and getting off the track, the bear re-crossed in front of the train with less than a meter to spare, and after the train was passed, was seen swimming madly to the island about 200m distant. Also saw a huge bull elk in the woods. The next morning we made one last run up the fire road. This turned out to be raptor day with 2 MERLIN, 1 AMERICAN KESTRAL, and a RED-TAILED HAWK. Also another family of HOODED MERGANSER and BARROWS GOLDENEYE were seen.

On Sunday afternoon, we left Jasper for CADOMIN and the CARDINAL DIVIDE. A juv SPOTTED SANDPIPER was noted on the drive up. An evening stroll failed to turn up anything unusual (ie BLUE GROUSE). Early on Monday we hiked up the divide to the tree-line. We were hoping for GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW but were concerned that with the lateness of the season they may have left the area. Fortunately this was not the case, and Richard finally spotted a pair of adults. I did not get a good look before they lost themselves in the underbrush, so we continued our search. We ran into a mixed flock of BREWER's (TIMBERLINE) SPARROWS, WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS, RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS, CHIPPING SPARROWS, with even a LINCOLN and SAVANNAH sparrow thrown in. In this group were some large juveniles molting to 1st Fall that we could not positively classify to White or Golden Crowned. Finally on the way back down to the area where the original adults had been seen, we were able to get another single adult GOLDEN-CROWNED from close enough for a positive ident before it flew off its perch. Also seen on this hike, an AMERICAN KESTRAL, GRAY JAYS, ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER, TOWNSEND WARBLE, a possible WILSON WARBLER, two CALIFORNIA GULLS flying over and a BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD juvenile near the parking area. A good sized Black Bear was also flushed on our walk. On our way back to CADOMIN we spotted a probably 1st year BALD EAGLE (hardly any white on the underparts), and two separate female HARLEQUIN DUCKS with downy young along the upper Macleod River.

With the Elk(many), Big Horn Sheep(many), Black Bears(4), Mule Deer(many), Moose(1), Hoary Marmot (many), Golden-Mantled and Columbian Ground Squirrels (many), Pica(1), Least Chipmunks and Red Squirrels (many) and some interesting plants it was an excellent weekend (5 new LIFE Birds and 2 new Alberta birds!) - and the empty check mark against BLUE GROUSE means a follow-on trip to visit that wonderful area is a must.

Good Birding!

Please send any comments or questions to Ted Hindmarch
Cold Lake